Industry News

Backlog At Terminals

Rob Gardenier | M.E. Dey & Co.

Terminals across the country are poorly equipped to handle the tsunami of cargo that has descended upon them in the last 8 weeks. Even well run terminals have resorted to stacking containers without a strategy for trucker availability or rail transfers.

Plans for a resolution of this latest choke point will not have any real effect until the middle of February at the earliest. As a rare admission, APM terminals in New York and New Jersey have admitted that some containers have been stuck in their terminals for 3 weeks or more simply because they cannot get to them. Keep in mind, not all terminals are created equal. With some truckers waiting about an hour to pick up their load, others have waited up to 10 hours! This of course kills driver productivity and takes trucker capacity off the road. When terminals are at full operation efficiency (80%), they are able to maximize the efficiency of container positioning. Labor productivity takes a hit when the terminals are operating at greater than 80% and more containers are being compelled to move multiple times while still within the terminal yards.

New York ports, despite the obvious bottlenecks, resist the idea of opening on Saturday. This, in addition to short weeks due to the Winter holidays, offered a significant contribution to the delays in container availability. Although stakeholders are tempted to blame their favorite targets, truckers, they usually overlook the real problem areas and bottlenecks:

  • Larger ships and consignees being granted extra free time, thus reducing the supply of available equipment
  • Chassis owners being challenged to provide supply for the demand
  • Terminals who cut off the return of empty containers when their yards are full
  • Carriers who are challenged to provide timely and effective arrival information all contribute to the delays

That said, let’s leave the poor trucker out of the blame. In fact, they are shouldering the extra burdens often without financial incentive.